Preparing for the ‘How are you?’ conversation

06 October 2016

Asking an employee, ‘How are you?’ can seem daunting when you have noticed a change in behaviour or something amiss at work.

“Leaders worry about the conversation. It’s difficult, and they worry about making things worse, and all of this can build up,” says Dr Laura Kirby, Principal Consultant Psychologist with CommuniCorp and facilitator of SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training.

“Often leaders will avoid having the conversation or they’ll be distracted during the conversation about what they’re going to say next or what is okay to say and how to approach it.”

Doing some preparation ahead of speaking to an employee about your concerns will help you have a conversation that targets the needs of the individual and the workplace.


Create the relationship

“The every day relationship behind these conversations is critical,” says Dr Kirby. “If you have a strong relationship with your employees before they’re struggling, then it makes those tough conversations less of an ordeal.

“An ongoing rapport and genuine relationship building means that when times are tough or someone is going through something difficult then it’s easy to have a conversation with them,” Dr Kirby says. “You don’t have to start from scratch in building that rapport: they’re used to you checking in and asking how things are going, so they won’t find it so confronting.”


Be open minded

Remember that you probably don’t know the whole picture of the person’s situation.

“When someone’s going through a hard time, you might not really know what’s going on for them, so try to be open minded,” suggests Dr Kirby. “Generally, there is some behaviour you’re observing that is not usual for that person, so at the end of these types of conversations you want to make sure that the person has appropriate support in place.”


Arm yourself with information

Try not to set too many expectations on how you’d like the conversation to go or the outcomes you’d like to reach. However, it is important to know where to offer or refer assistance for the employee.

“Don’t try to lead the conversation somewhere, but know what support can be offered and what can be done to support them at work as well,” advises Dr Kirby.

Undertaking training is a powerful resource, too, and SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Trainingoffers practical role plays to assist in this preparation for tough conversations.

“The role plays we do in the Training are tricky but at the end of every session, people say that’s the part of the training they got the most out of,” says Dr Kirby. “It looks easy to read what you need to say in a conversation, but when you go to do it, it’s a different story. You might not be sure what language suits you, what words you’ll use or how to approach it if things take an unexpected turn so getting some practise at that is crucial.”


Take a moment to be mindful

Before going into the conversation with an employee with potential mental health challenges, prepare yourself. Dr Kirby advises, “Mindfulness is a technique that can remove some emotionality and get you into the present moment. When you’re having a conversation with someone about how they’re doing, you need to make sure you are present for that conversation.”

* When you’re taking action, it’s important to have the skills, strategies and confidence to do so in a manner that’s appropriate for the situation. This is the basis of  SuperFriend’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Training; we provide managers with the knowledge and preparation to be proactive towards creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.